|Africa News Digest
Reports Say Sudan Agrees to UN, AU Role in Darfur
Sudan has signed a joint agreement with the UN and the African Union, defining the respective roles of those organizations in Darfur, according to the official Saudi news agency, SPA, on April 15.
Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir reportedly phoned Saudi King Abdullah, and told him the Sudanese government has signed the agreement for the third stage of a plan previously agreed to by Sudan and the UN, to build up the African Union forces in Darfur. In New York, UN deputy spokeswoman Marie Okabe said she could not immediately confirm the Saudi report. U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte, who is in Sudan as part of an international push to increase pressure on Khartoum over Darfur, avoided commenting on the report of an agreement.
The United Nations and Sudan agreed last November on a three-stage plan to strengthen the undermanned and underequipped African Union peacekeeping force of 7,000 in Darfur, to bring it up to 17,000 troops and 3,000 police officers, with the help of the UN. However, Sudan was opposed to the deployment of UN peacekeeping forces, saying it would allow the AU troops, but that the contribution of the UN would be limited to providing the African Union troops technical and logistical support. President al-Bashir said the presence of UN troops will undermine Sudan's sovereignty.
UN Security Council Sanctions Against Sudan Blocked
Russia, China, and South Africa acted in concert April 16 to block a move by the United States and the U.K. to start talks on new UN sanctions against Sudan, AFP reported April 18. Russian Ambassador to the UN Vitali Churkin, said, "We don't think it's the right time. It would be very strange." He was referring to the fact that Sudan is now cooperating with the UN on Darfur, and on April 16, agreed to the UN deployment of 3,000 UN personnel plus helicopters (the "heavy package support"), to help the African Union forces there. "Why do we have to be so negative?" Churkin asked. "After a long while we have this positive development in the dialogue between the UN and Khartoum, and all of a sudden to come back with some sanctions would not be good." The Chinese ambassador agreed. "It is better not to move in that direction [toward sanctionsed.]. Many parties are engaging the Sudanese government. Agreement has been reached for the heavy package support," said Liu Zhenmin.
South African Ambassador to the UN Dumisani Kumalo echoed the Russian and Chinese position in remarks to the press: "It is very surprising that they would be bringing up sanctions when Sudan has just made great improvements on the request of the UN for the heavy package, and has accepted [UN Secretary General] Ban Ki-Moon's offer to assist."
China, which has a big economic interests in Sudan, having built its main oil refinery, was also instrumental in mediating the agreement with the UN.
Gore Democrat Susan Rice Urges Bombing Sudan
"Bombing Sudan will only hurt a little bit," Susan Rice of the Brookings Institute, told the U.S. Senate April 11, in an effort to counter South African and Chinese moves to seek a peaceful resolution for the crisis in Darfur.
On April 9, Chinese Assistant Foreign Minister Zhai Jun, while on a visit to Sudan, urged the government to accept last year's plan by then-UN Secretary General Kofi Annan for a joint UN-African Union peacekeeping force in Darfur. Zhai pointedly warned that putting too much outside pressure on Sudan could be counterproductive, according to reports in the People's Daily.
On April 10, South African President Thabo Mbeki arrived in Khartoum, for discussions furthering peace in Darfur, and between Sudan and Chad. Also, on April 11 Mbeki announced, regarding the 2006 Comprehensive Peace Agreement which ended the years-long strife in southern Sudan, that he was satisfied with the progress being made in implementing this. Mbeki said that his government, as a sponsor and mediator of that agreement, will remind humanitarian aid donors to honor their commitments to Sudan.
These initiatives are in line with the request last month to the United States by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, for the U.S. to delay imposing any new sanctions on Sudan for at least two to four weeks, to allow more time for the Secretary General's negotiations with the Sudan government about sending in a Darfur peace-keeping force. On April 11, the Bush Administration indicated it would refrain from imposing new sanctions.
However, war-hawk Democrat Rice (Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs under Clinton-Gore), in direct opposition to these diplomatic initiatives, led the charge at an April 11 Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, calling for "severe, sharp, and swift" sanctions against Sudan, and for military action.
In response to a question from committee chairman Joe Biden (D-Del.), about the prospect of bombs harming the 13,000 aid workers and their "functioning" in Sudan, Rice said that bombing would only cause a "temporary disruption" and "diminution" of their work. Under further questioning, Rice resorted to her oft-repeated charge that "enough is enough" for genocide in Sudan.
Andrew Natsios, U.S. Special Envoy to Sudan, said, "The only way to achieve long-term progress in Darfur is to promote a political settlement among the parties to the conflict within the framework of the Darfur Peace Agreement, and this is where we are now focusing our attention. We strongly support a leadership role for the United Nations and the African Union...."
Late on April 12, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte arrived in Sudan, for what was billed as continued talks on the proposal to deploy U.N. peacekeepers in Darfur.
Malaysian PM Exposes Lies About Darfur
Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, who is also the current head of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), blew the whistle on the international racist hype against Sudan and the lies about the crisis in Darfur after a three-day visit to Sudan. After a visit on April 17 to El Fasher in North Darfur, Badawi told the New Straits Times, which published his statement April 20, that "I don't agree with what is said in the media about Darfur. They have food there, the security situation is under control. It is just that the internally displaced people need to be put in proper places." He said that 70% of Darfur is secure, that the Red Cross stopped distributing food aid because the harvest has increased, and that the promise of development in the villages abandoned during the conflict would encourage refugees to return.
Prime Minister Badawi also reported on the booming development in Khartoum, with two new bridges across the Nile, a new airport, new hotels, and new office buildings, including those of Petronas (the Malaysian oil company) and China National Petroleum.
Fundamentalists Claim Bombings in Algeria
Two bombs exploded on April 11one in the Algerian capital of Algiers, and the other in its suburbsclaiming at least 24 lives and injuring 143 others, Indianews reported from Algiers. One of the blasts ripped part of the facade off the Prime Minister's residence in the center of Algiers. A second bomb hit Bab Ezzouar on Algiers' eastern outskirts.
A radical Islamist group formerly known as the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC), which changed its name to the Al-Qa'ida Organization in the Islamic Maghreb (QOIM), after restructuring last year, claimed responsibility in a statement released on the Internet.
GSPC has led an insurgency against Algeria's secular government for the last 15 years. The group reportedly wanted to bring down 52 Muslim governments around the world. Islamist radicals also attacked foreign workers in Algeria on Dec. 10, 2006, and on March 3 this year.
The attacks in Algiers were referred to as "Ghazwa" (Jihadi raid) by al-Qaeda, and follow bombing attacks in Morocco the previous week. The group has also announced its intent to attack Western targets, particularly France. Intelligence sources also link the group to radical fundamentalists in Somalia.